Scottish Government reported for failure to answer questions on numbers of police mental health staff

The Scottish Government has been reported to the Information Commissioner over its refusal to say how many new mental health support staff the police will be given.

Willie Rennie has reported the government to the Information Commissioner accusing it of failing to answer questions about mental health support staff numbers.

Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Willie Rennie, has referred the government after the First Minister was unable to explain why Police Scotland had received just 7.5 extra staff over two years, despite being promised more.

Mr Rennie raised the issue at last week's First Minister's Questions, highlighting how Police Scotland was promised a share of 800 new staff under the 2017 mental health strategy but that statistics now show the national force has only received 7.5 extra mental health workers.

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According to its strategy, the government pledged to "increase the workforce to give access to dedicated mental health professionals to all A&Es, all GP practices, every police station custody suite, and to our prisons."

This would see an "additional investment to £35 million for 800 additional mental health workers in those key settings" over five years. However the latest quarterly update on allocation of mental health staff, shows the 7.5 given to the police plus 121 staff who have been attributed to ‘other settings’.

Mr Rennie said his party had repeatedly asked how many extra staff Police Scotland will receive, through parliamentary questions and freedom of information requests. However, the Scottish Government has consistently refused to release this information.

As a result the party has now reported the government to the Scottish Information Commissioner, Daren Fitzhenry, who is responsible for the promotion and enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act.

Mr Rennie said: "The fact we have had to ask the Information Commissioner to provide basic scrutiny of this policy shows it is another skin deep commitment from the Scottish Government.

"There is no good reason for secrecy. If ministers had a robust plan for giving the police more mental health support they would tell us.

"Instead, we now know that two and a half years after they were promised help, the police have just 7.5 extra staff. The First Minister couldn't tell me why. She has taken her eye off the ball and this level of action won't begin to end the mental health crisis.

“Liberal Democrats want mental health to be taken just as seriously as physical health. We want to stop Brexit, stop independence and get on with building a brighter future. The time and money being spent on these would be much better spent on transforming our under-pressure mental health services."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said the mental health strategy would provide extra investment over the next five years, rising to £35 million in the fifth year for 800 extra mental health workers in key locations, including police custody and accident and emergency departments.

"We are on course to deliver on this commitment, with 327.5 workers having been recruited as of 1 October 2019. This will help to ensure people have better access to mental health support at a time and place where they may need it the most.

“There are already many good Scottish examples of health and justice organisations working together to support better outcomes for people, for example through the Mental Health Street Triage pilot in Govan, which is a collaboration between police, ambulance and mental health services, while mental health and distress is one of the priorities of our Health and Justice Collaboration Improvement Board."

The spokesperson added “As outlined in the Policing 2026 strategy and reflected in Scotland’s Vision and Priorities for Justice, Police Scotland continues to evolve to meet the changing nature of crime and society, working with the wider public sector and others to keep communities safe from a range of harms.”

Last week at First Minister's Questions, Mr Rennie said the three-year delay in the publication of a police staff survey was leading to suspicions that "it is going to be bad news for the police" and so his party had investigated the welfare of staff themselves and found the number of working days police officers lost to mental ill health has gone up 11 per cent in just two years.

"For police staff, the figure is 25 per cent," he said. "The chief superintendent in charge of policing in Tayside said that mental health is “a huge amount of our demand”. The Scottish Government promised that new mental health staff would be working alongside police, to help them to cope.

"But in the past week, we have discovered that that adds up to a miserable seven and a half extra staff. Police staff will be lucky to have seen those extra staff in the canteen, let alone to have worked with them.

"We have police staff off sick and the police have massive demands on their time, but just seven and a half extra staff to help them. That is just not good enough."

Nicola Sturgeon said she would write to Mr Rennie with "details of exactly when the staff survey will happen", and added: "Overall, our police, like our NHS workers, social workers and teachers in our schools, clearly do jobs that are incredibly stressful.

"Police are receiving training to deliver brief stress interventions to others, but their own welfare is very important. That is exactly why we have maintained police numbers at a level that is well above the level that we inherited when we came into office, in contrast to what has happened elsewhere.

"That is also why we are ensuring that our police officers are properly rewarded for the job that they do, through a pay increase that, again, is much greater than increases elsewhere.

"We will continue to work closely with the Police Service of Scotland to make sure that it is equipped. We are protecting the revenue budget of the Police Service in real terms over this session. We will do all those things to make sure that our police officers, like our other public sector workers, have the support that they deserve from their government."

The First Minister insisted the government was delivering on its commitment to invest in mental health support workers "across a range of settings" and said: "One of the things that we talk about in respect of the general population, and which is reflected in all public services, is people being more able to come forward and seek help if they are suffering from mental health difficulties.

"That is a good thing, but it means that we must continue to invest in and improve the services that are available. We are, every single day, focused on doing exactly that."